EL NUEVO DÍA - Por Dentro
San Juan, Puerto Rico
7 September 1998

Puerto Rico . . . in the natural
by Juan Carlos Pérez Duthie
of El Nuevo Día

For many in this country, it is probable that the definition of indigenous fauna is limited simply to the coquí. But, for Cuban biologist Alfonso Silva Lee, the variety of animals on the Island is extended above and beyond the famous frog, immortalized as a souvenir, in the majority of cases, erroneously. Because, generally, the frogs that are seen on these T-shirts or ceramic figures so coveted by the tourists are representations of South American species. With this new book, however, the misinformation could begin to be corrected.

Since the end of 1996, Silva has been studying the creatures of Puerto Rico (and to a lesser degree its flora), such as he had done for his previous volume, Natural Cuba. The results of his investigation can be appreciated now in the showy volume Natural Puerto Rico, with text in Spanish and English and more than 70 color photographs, recently published by the editorial house Pangaea and that is already for sale in some bookstores of the country. Founded as an independent publisher in 1990, Pangaea develops books devoted to the promotion of environmental conservation in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Something unquestionably necessary in the Puerto Rico today.

"The general idea is that a close relationship between man and nature exists in none of the Antilles," says the scientist, who now lives in the neighborhood of Real Anón, near Ponce. "Nature in the islands has been ignored or despised, and I don't know which is worse. I believe that perhaps being ignored . . .."

For that reason Silva, 25 years ago, focused his interest on the creatures of the Caribbean, writing about them and documenting them through photographs.

"In all the Antilles there is a sensibility problem," says the author of nine books on this theme. "Here I see it again."

Up to this point, although some writing on the fauna and flora of the Island existed, there was not really a book that presented the topic in an everyday yet precise manner with ample graphical representation.

"A need exists. There is this ecological niche to which very few scientists pay attention and, I believe that, little by little, and in the way that it can, Natural Puerto Rico will help to create contact," contends Silva.

That contact, he continues, is imperative among the youth of the country if the nature that surrounds us is to survive.

"This book is fundamentally written for youths from to 12 and 18 years old, but can be read by any adult without shyness or intrepidation," he asserts. The idea of making a book of Puerto Rico's nature arose in 1992, when Silva spent six months on the Island. He would accumulate a good quantity of photographs of almost 100 animal species. He would return in 1993, and again the next year, when he already had a draft in process.

By 1996, he had some 250 species well documented and photographed. His Puerto Rican colleagues would make comments on the text. Some even would travel with him in his expeditions on the Island.

"A third of the images in the book are from around the area where I live," he explained. "Others belong to a handful of reserves, in Guánica, Cambalache, Maricao and near there. All beautiful surprises."

How does he compare the biodiversity of Cuba with that of Puerto Rico?

"What is more interesting is that they are the same symphony but arranged in thoroughly different ways," he explains. "That is what occurs in each Antillean island. There is a large wealth of reptiles and amphibians, insects and birds, but each of the islands has a handful exclusive to it.

Ecological preservation in a country with as much construction as Puerto Rico is an area into which the scientist prefers not to enter.

"The topic is extremely controversial and subversive," he indicates. "I present this matter in a very general way, where I emphasize that man does not identify with natural values, and does not know what the island holds.

A dream of Silva's is that Natural Puerto Rico will be distributed in schools of the country, not only so that it serves as an introduction to the endemic fauna, but as an educational instrument that invites greater interest on the part of new generations.

Because of this, he is also preparing another Puerto Rican fauna book, in this case for children 8 to 12 years old.

"I think about putting down roots here," asserts Silva, "in order to be able to move about the islands and help fill a vacuum that exists concerning an ecological conscience."